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Rotation in the golf swing is about quality, not quantity

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This article was co-authored with Chris Gibson, an Australian AAA-rated golf professional. His teaching philosophy focuses on simplicity and longevity in the game, providing help for golfers at all levels. He focuses on interpreting information from technology and applying it in the simplest way possible to help his students.

Rotation is a buzz word that gets used a lot when talking about the golf swing. And it should. Golf is a rotary sport that requires us to turn the body in order to generate power in the action of hitting the ball.

More often than not, rotation is discussed with reference to quantity: How far? How much? How many degrees?

In our opinion, body rotation in the golf swing (like so many things in life) should be discussed in terms of quality, not quantity.

Why is it important to change our attitude toward rotation? Because talking about it in terms of quantity, while claiming that more is better, does not help the majority of golfers.

The average club golfer is often incapable of achieving large ranges of quality rotation in the key areas of their bodies. Because they can’t find the range or stability in the right places, they look for it elsewhere and usually end up in one of two scenarios:

  1. A reverse spine angle/over extension of spine, with a head that moves toward target (Photo 1).
  2. A collapsed lower body (Photo 2).
pic 1

Photo 1

pic 2

Photo 2

It would benefit a huge amount of golfers around the world to get a better understanding of what quality rotation is and where it needs to happen.

Quality rotation is the act of a joint moving through a range of motion in a way that is efficient, controlled and repeatable. Essentially, the correct muscles are exerting the correct forces on the correct bones in order for them twist against one other in the correct way. This allows golfers to get into powerful positions in the backswing, which in turn allows us to rotate in the opposite direction and return the club back to the ball in the most efficient way possible.

3 Key Areas

The three areas that we need to generate quality rotation from are the hips, shoulders and thoracic spine. It’s not mere coincidence that these are three of the most mobile areas in our body and are specifically designed to achieve large ranges of motion.

At the hip, we are looking for efficient internal and external rotation (see Photo 3). That is the pelvis turning around the top of the thigh bone (femur) efficiently, without the all-too-common compensations (see Photo 2).

pic 3

Photo 3

From the thoracic spine, we need the vertebrae to turn, one on top of the other (see Photo 4 of thoracic rotation). This allows the sternum (breastplate) to face away from the target, creating a wind-up effect in the torso without the usual compensations (see Photo 1).

pic 4

Photo 4

Here, we would like the shoulder externally rotate, essentially turning the inside of the elbow outwards (see Photo 5). This allows the club to be set “on plane” without the common shoulder-level compensations (see Photo 6, flattened shoulder plane).

pic 5

Photo 5

pic 6

Photo 6

If golfers can find quality rotation in each key area, then they have a good chance to find a solid backswing position from which they can reverse the movement back to the golf ball.

Individuality

Different people have varying capabilities to rotate in the three key areas. Sandy Lyle, Jason Day and John Daly have completely different amounts of rotation in their bodies during the golf swing. They are all long hitters who generate huge amounts of power from varying QUANTITIES of QUALITY rotation.

If you have limited range of motion in one or more of the three key areas, don’t despair. Make the most of what you have, and you can still be efficient and powerful in your golf swing.

Learn how to train quality rotation

Technology does a great job of quantifying our body and club movements during the swing. The most popular and accessible form of movement analysis comes in the form of K-Vest. K-Vest essentially tells us the degrees of rotation that we are achieving at the pelvis (hips) and at the thorax (chest), as well as how far our pelvis tilts from front to back. While K-Vest gives recommendations for quantity of rotation, it’s up to the user to interpret the info, match it up to the way the body is moving and look for the quality of rotation.

Here’s an example (Photo 7). Nick is achieving the K-Vest recommended degrees of rotation at the pelvis and at the thorax, which is demonstrated in Photo 8 (green is good). The position looks pretty solid. There’s a nice dynamic rotation in the key areas.

pic 7

Photo 7

pic 8

Photo 8

In Photo 9, Nick is also achieving the K-Vest recommended degree of rotation at the pelvis and thorax, but you’ll notice that the position does not look very efficient. That’s why just looking at the numbers (Photo 10) can be detrimental to a golfer’s swing. We have to focus on the quality of rotation, because simply going after the quantity can be very misleading.

pic 9

Pic 9

pic 10

Pic 10

As golf coaches and golf fitness professionals, we need to learn to recognize what good rotation is and how to assess and measure it. As for golfers, they need to learn what quality rotation looks and feels like, then go about practicing and training it.

Let’s shift our context of rotation from “How much?” to “How well?” so we can play more golf, and better golf, too!

You can access guides to increasing ranges of motion in the key areas, training stability and strength and learning how to move with quality rotation here: Training Quality Rotation.

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Nick Randall is a Strength and Conditioning Coach, Presenter and Rehab Expert contracted by PGA Tour Players, Division 1 colleges and national teams to deliver golf fitness services. Via his Golf Fit Pro website, app, articles and online training services, Nick offers the opportunity to the golfing world to access his unique knowledge and service offerings. www.golffitpro.net

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Pingback: Rotation in the golf swing is about quality, not quantity | GolfWRX | 40100sports

  2. Larry

    Feb 23, 2015 at 10:35 pm

    You want to see how much turn you really need?? Next time a PGA or Dot COm. tournament comes your way and D J Trahan is playing go to the driving range on a Tuesday or Wednesday and and watch D J Trahan hit drives 300 yards and irons as stright and high as anyone with a turn you would meaure in inches….

  3. Barry S.

    Feb 23, 2015 at 2:58 pm

  4. dcorun

    Feb 23, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    Trying to over rotate especially when you get older only makes things worse. It’s the same as trying to take the club back as far as John Daly. I was trying to turn my left shoulder over my right foot and my belt buckle facing 45* and so on. Your game will go to hell. Rotate as far as you feel comfortable and can still keep good form. For myself, I’ve found that my game has gotten better even at 62 since I started doing that. I’m making a better swing and hitting the center of the clubface more often which increases your distance. This was a really good article, Thanks Nick.

  5. Barry S.

    Feb 23, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    What is the purpose of the rotation? I took lessons from Mike Austin over the course of 5 years and got to know and play with Mike Dunaway. Austin described the swing as a circle. There is a center, a radius and a circumference.

    The purpose of the pivot is to separate the club head from the ball. Shorter shots require less separation. The speed is on the circumference and not the radius (left arm).

    Good luck making solid contact and creating club head speed by trying to make the radius go fast by torquing and un-torquing. A recipe for back trouble.

  6. Bob

    Feb 23, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    I’m puzzled by the statement that the thoracic spine is one of the three most mobile areas in the body. My understanding is it’s one of the least mobile. The attachment of the ribs hinders movement, in general. Flexion, extension, and rotation are all limited by that and the orientation of articular facets in that region. The freest movement is lateral bending, but there isn’t much of that, either.

  7. Jay

    Feb 23, 2015 at 9:27 am

    Very interesting – well written

  8. Gorden

    Feb 23, 2015 at 1:04 am

    Turn, turn, turn….funny I see older, guys like myself, using a Don Trahan limited turn upright swing or the Graves Moe Norman swing hitting the ball just as far as the middle age and younger guys worrying about how much turn you can get into your swing. Clue guys, as you get older your arm strength lasts a lot longer then your ability to make a rotary type swing work.

  9. Eli Yates

    Feb 22, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    I like this article because I feel like I am not overly flexible… even to the point that I dont take the club back that far but I do feel like I make a good turn off the ball and then my move into the ball is above average I think. so I still get good distance with my swing. I am working on becoming more flexible but its not something that happens over night. In my mind im swinging like Adam Scott in reality it looks like something Charles Barkley had on a bad day.

  10. jonno

    Feb 22, 2015 at 11:11 pm

    vic park learning centre eh

  11. creamy

    Feb 22, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    I didnt know Neil Patrick Harris plays golf too!! Great article

  12. Prime21

    Feb 22, 2015 at 12:51 am

    The quality of rotation is indeed essential, but to say that the quantity is any less important is misleading. Even quality rotation must reach a minimum quantitative value to produce a powerful and efficient swing. Failing to reach the minimum value would have a negative impact on both the swing plane and the kinematic sequence. While I agree that many turn with improper form, I do not think it is fair to imply that if a player loses form when they reach 20 degrees of rotation, then they can stop there and they will still play better golf. Let’s call a spade a spade. Learning to swing like a Tour Professional is hard. To accomplish the task, one must not only turn well, they must do so while turning this much. There simply are no shortcuts.

    • Nick Randall

      Feb 22, 2015 at 6:37 pm

      Hi Prime,

      I agree with you 100%, there is a minimum amount of rotation needed. I was simply advocating firstly that we should focus more on the quality and secondly that golfers would benefit more from improving the quality of their rotation (through corrective exercise and swing drills) rather than simply aiming for more poor quality rotation.

      I hope this helps

      Nick

  13. Tom Stickney

    Feb 21, 2015 at 8:19 pm

    Good stuff

  14. Prime21

    Feb 21, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    While quality is important, I would not say that it is more important than quantity. Even a quality movement must meet minimal requirements of quantity to be effective. Without these #’s, both the swingplane and kinematic chain, would be greatly effected. This is what makes golf such a tough sport. We are asked to complete multiple movements, at a high rate of speed, all in a short time frame. One needs a combination of many elements in order to play at a high level, consistently. Sacrificing one OR the other, would have a significant negative impact on the overall quality of the swing. In this case I would have to say not only do they help one another, they simply NEED one another.

    • Jeremy

      Feb 23, 2015 at 1:21 pm

      But Prime, quantity without quality can be worse than just a bad swing, it can cause pain and injury to other parts of the body, and that affects life beyond golf. I get your point that for an optimal golf swing at a high level, both are critical. But golfers should learn how to do the right thing versus the wrong thing for their bodies, and then work on increasing that motion.

    • Alex

      Feb 23, 2015 at 1:52 pm

      Quality leads to consistent ball striking which leads to better scores. Most golfers would sacrifice 20 yards if they could hit their target line 4x as often. Golf has a simple solution for more distance: more club; but a different club won’t improve your accuracy.

  15. capbozo

    Feb 21, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    Great article. This really came into focus a couple of weeks ago when both JB Holmes and John Daly were both playing well. Their turns away from the ball couldn’t be more different in terms of rotation but both were absolutely killing it. Those two swings alone are absolute proof of your quality over quantity premise.

    I was wondering if you would give your thoughts about how knee flex — particularly in the right knee — affects the quality of ones thoracic rotation. I feel like I get into trouble when I get away from feeling like I’m sitting through the take-away. Jim Colbert (old school) always seemed to be working on this.

    Thoughts?

  16. Chris Nickel

    Feb 21, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    Great article here Nick! Well done!

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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots

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Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.

Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.

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Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions

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Practice range at the Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

You’ve gotten lessons.  Several of them.  You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag.  You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards.  And yet, you’re still…stuck.  Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers.  You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score.  What gives?

Sample Golf Blueprint practice plan for a client.

One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan.  His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today.  A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.”  Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range.  In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:

“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”

Let me guess.  You’ve tried that before, right?  You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right?  Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem.  There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice.  Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional.  It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.

This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint.  In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project.  Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old.  In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events.  Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events.  Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game.  By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.

The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something.  Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system.  Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most.  Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.

Nico Darras, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here.  Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time.  Far from it.  In Nico’s words:

“We recommend 3 days a week.  You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients.  Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal.  Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice.  Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours.  We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”

Kevin Moore, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike.  Kevin shares some key data in that regard:

“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Were we going to be an elite player product?  Were we going to be an amateur player product?  We didn’t know, honestly.  So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players.  Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range.  That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range.  We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps.  It runs the full gamut.  What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated.  The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”

Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice.  Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something.  I think these guys might be too.  To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.

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